Expectations can be optimistic or pessimistic. People can expect disaster or they can anticipate peace and security. The negative side of expectation is despair. The positive side of expectation is hope. I’d like to introduce my topic by appealing to the hopeful anticipation of a few rats. A number of years ago researchers performed an experiment to see the effect hope has on those undergoing hardship. Two sets of laboratory rats were placed in separate tubs of water. The researchers left one set in the water and found that within an hour they had all drowned. The other rats were periodically lifted out of the water and then returned. When that happened, the second set of rats swam for over 24 hours. Why? Not because they were given a rest, but because they suddenly had hope!
Those animals somehow hoped that if they could stay afloat just a little longer, someone would reach down and rescue them. If hope holds such power for rodents, how much greater should its effect be on our lives. We often use metaphors to describe the kind of outlook people have about the future. You know some of these sayings:
- “going to hell in a hand-basket”
- “going down the tubes”
- “like dust in the wind”
- “like a feather in a hurricane.”
There’s plenty of other ways to define “despair,” but we all get the point. In the years before he became king of Israel, David was often a hunted man, a hated man, a fugitive. Constant running from King Saul and the weariness of looking over his shoulder wore David down at times and the “sweet singer of Israel” often sang a sour note. I want to look today at a burst of confidence that God was with him and was committed to a purpose for his life. It is the expectation of a man with a healthy belief in a powerful, providential God.
1 He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust." 3 Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence. 4 He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge; his truth shall be your shield and buckler. 5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day, 6 Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you. 8 Only with your eyes shall you look, and see the reward of the wicked. 9 Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place, 10 No evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; 11 For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. 12 In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone. 13 You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot. 14 "Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known My name. 15 He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. 16 With long life I will satisfy him, and show him My salvation." (NKJ)
It is fair to say the world lives on the edge of a security crisis. We have lost our understanding of sanctuary in these times. This has been a week of funerals and mourning in Quebec City following a deadly mosque attack. Where can we feel totally safe? God is explained in Psalm 91 in terms of His ability to make us secure. If you feel insecurity as a Christian, it may be due to a misunderstanding of God’s protection. An old Gospel song I heard a few years ago states, “I’ve never looked into eyes with no pain.” At 16 I had my first life-altering brush with death as I lost both grandparents in an automobile accident near Corner Brook Stream.
Before that time and many times since I have witnessed or experienced many of the common types of physical threats. Like all of you I have lived side-by-side with accidents, diseases, drunken drivers, natural disasters, terrorist threats, war and now, to some degree, aging. Thousands of patients I’ve seen have introduced me to the myriad of complications that come either uninvited into life or arrived as a consequence of something that was viewed as “progress” a few years ago. There will always be some kind of threat to deal with. At 20 it was one thing, at 40 another, at 60 something else and 80 … who can tell? Look at these pictures: here’s my process of aging at 7, 30, 50 and if I keep going I’m looking more like this guy. If physical safety is my greatest challenge, I will always be insecure because I will always face something. Against some things we feel powerless.
David grew up as the youngest son of Jesse, a boy of the fields with a talent for composing and singing songs on a rudimentary harp. He graduated from life as a humble shepherd on the hillsides of Bethlehem to being a giant killer in the Philistine-Israelite war. He went from hero to fugitive. He went from being cheered to being hunted throughout Israel. He went from being married to the king’s daughter to seeing his wife given to another man to be his wife. All of it occurred within a short period of time. Every familiar institution where David could find some comfort and some rest had been stripped away from his life. Almost every exit was closed. Let me put it this way:
- The Armed Forces were mobilized to terminate him with extreme prejudice
- King Saul had a personal vendetta against him; he could not appeal to the government since he was on their “most wanted” list
- His ancestral home was watched and even by going there he put his family in jeopardy
- He could not go home to his wife; stable married life was denied him and an unstable marital life would haunt him for the duration of his reign.
With all other forms of security missing from his life, the author (some say “David”) learned to depend solely upon God. He retreated to a spiritual fortress and rested under the wings of a sovereign Lord where he found protection and warmth. That’s the kind of place we will all need to some degree in 2017 and certainly for the future.
For a Christian, the zone of security has to be spiritual. It also has to take us beyond the physical realm to eternity. Sometimes we need to put aside our visions of Sweet Beulah Land and our visions of the hereafter with the winged angels and huge glittering mansions. We need to understand that some of the power of eternity is here for us NOW. If this world were to collapse, if the TSE and the Dow Jones and the NASDAQ and all the other markets for everything were to disappear, we would still be secure. If our peace became anarchy and democracy degenerated into dictatorship, or if our neighbor to the south made a decision that shook the fragile foundations of our world, we still have the Rock of our Salvation. “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”
The relationship I have with my wife and my sons and each one of you is limited by so many factors. The relationship may be terminated by any kind of physical reason or a resignation. But the relationship I have with God is eternal. This is the background of every one of Paul’s statements that are filled with assurance. He wrote some of his most comforting verses while he was the guest of the Roman Empire with a jailer as his host. Death was his companion; the executioner awaited his victim, but Paul understood inner security. To the Romans (8:38-39) Paul said, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” To Timothy (2 Tim 1:12) he wrote: “I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” To that we need to add Jesus’ words in John 10:28-29, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand.” Protection and security is rooted in faith. Faith transcends the physical and makes the eternal our only blanket of security.
It would take a long time to exhaust the wealth of this psalm. Verses 9,10 and 11 beg more than a glance. “Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place, No evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.” You will notice they are part of the words Jesus used to defeat Satan during His wilderness temptations. That phrase in Verse 10 is hard to take, “No evil shall befall you.” Well Pastor, that defies everything you’ve said so far this morning. I wish I could say that was true for me. I’ve had pain and sickness and heartbreak. I’ve watched as evil ripped people to pieces and do all kinds of damage. The key to the verse is the word “befall.” It doesn’t mean “arrive” nor does it mean “No evil will come near me.” The word means “to contort with anguish.” I have watched people have painful spasms and double over when they struck. I have seen people in deep distress show their mental anguish physically. “No evil shall befall” you means that it won’t twist you or destroy you. You can’t be destroyed by Satan’s schemes. The second part of the verse states that the plague will not come near your dwelling. Those who live in the secret place of the most high have security. Every plague that has ever attacked us has been defeated at the cross and our lives are hidden in Christ until the day He removes us from the struggle of our physical existence.
Paul is as realistic as the psalmist that our expectations of God’s protection should lead us to seek God. “He who dwells” indicates someone who sought and found God’s protection. Faith has to drive us to our hope. G. K. Chesterton wrote: “Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all... As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength.”
A few years ago James Dobson wrote about a man who grasped a very thin strand of hope. Stephen Hawking is an astrophysicist at Cambridge University and has been labeled as perhaps the most intelligent man on earth. He has advanced the general theory of relativity farther than any person since Albert Einstein. Unfortunately, Hawking is afflicted with ALS Syndrome (Lou Gehrig's disease). It will eventually take his life. He has been confined to a wheelchair for years, where he can do little more than sit and think. Hawking has lost the ability even to speak, and now he communicates by means of a computer that is operated from the tiniest movement of his fingertips.
An Omni magazine article written about him stated: “He is too weak to write, feed himself, comb his hair, fix his glasses--all this must be done for him. Yet this most dependent of all men has escaped invalid status. His personality shines through the messy details of his existence.” Hawking said that before he became ill, he had very little interest in life. He called it a "pointless existence" resulting from sheer boredom. He drank too much and did very little work. Then he learned he had ALS Syndrome and was not expected to live more than two years. The ultimate effect of that diagnosis, beyond its initial shock, was extremely positive. He claimed to have been happier after he was afflicted than before. How can that be understood?
Hawking provided the answer. "When one's expectations are reduced to zero," he said, "one really appreciates everything that one does have." Stated another way: contentment in life is determined in part by what a person anticipates from it. To a man like Hawking who thought he would soon die quickly, everything takes on meaning--a sunrise or a walk in a park or the laughter of children. Suddenly, each small pleasure becomes precious. By contrast, those who believe life owes them a free ride are often discontent with its finest gifts.
As humans in a world that can be hostile; as we are sometimes shaken by bad news and sudden turns in the road of life, we need a perspective on God that will build our confidence in Him. We need to reach Hawking’s understanding on a spiritual level: “We have zero expectations without God.” He is able to care for us. A few years ago a wonderful nature movie was introduced to audiences. Let me propose some theological truth from a film called “The Bear.” In the film we are introduced to a baby bear, a cute and playful grizzly whose mother is killed. As the plot unfolds the cub meets a huge male bear who is being hunted. The massive bear befriends him and becomes like a big brother. The specific scene I’m thinking of is one where the cub is stalked by a mountain lion. The cub appears to be an easy meal. As the chase progresses the cub is chased to a cliff. He jumps into the river below floats downriver on a log. The cougar waits in the shoals for his prey and it looks like the end as the cougar moves in for the kill. The scene is heart wrenching. The little cub has the instincts, but no size. His roar is no louder than a pathetic bawl. He stands there in front of the cougar and swipes at him – too small, too weak. Essentially, it’s over, he’s breakfast for a cougar, but the cougar suddenly backs off. WHY? Behind the cub towers an 8-foot grizzly.
It reminds me: “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” It would be a mistake to think we have the strength and the size to stand up to the obstacles we will face on our way to a better day. Our God is able to carry us through any of the threats that you and I face today. Hope in Christ needs to be shared with everyone we find whose life is exposed to the raw winds and the uncertain future of life without God. We are secure in the might and majesty of our Savior!